Save Smokey The Echidna

The destruction of echidna habitats is making our landscape more bushfire-prone suggests a report released earlier this year by students from the University of Tasmania.

As the nation heats up for summer and we receive plenty of notice about the looming bushfire season, which has already kicked-off in some parts of our parched country, the Tasmanian study suggests it’s not just climate change making things worse. There are a whole raft of factors.

For starters, the United Nations has acknowledged we’re killing our native fauna in record numbers and closing in on a mass extinction event.

The UN’s report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) pointed out nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history.

Australia is one of the worst culprits as we continue to clear vast tracts of land for agriculture and other development.

While it’s contributing to global warming it’s also affecting native animal populations in a disastrous manner which oddly, also contributes to bushfire risk.

A study conducted by the University of Tasmania School of Natural Sciences’ Masters student Gareth Davies, Professor Chris Johnson and a team of researchers found digging mammals have a hugely positive effect on ecosystems.

According to Professor Johnson, “the impact of small animals digging on forest floors, turning soil over and trapping organic matter, is vital in helping to create and maintain a diverse ecosystem.”

More pertinently, they also reduce bushfire risk.

The study found the digging by bettongs and other species such as echidnas created pits that act as traps for organic matter. Soil that formed as a result of breakdown of organic matter in the pits had higher fertility and moisture content and lower hardness than undisturbed topsoil.

“Our data supports the hypothesis that the loss of digging species has changed soil characteristics, reduced soil fertility and degraded ecosystem functioning over large areas of Australia,” Professor Johnson said earlier this year.

Moreover, the higher moisture content in the soil brought about by the digging not only helps to reduce the risk of bushfire, but “also enables the habitat to bounce back quickly if it is affected by fire,” Professor Johnson said.

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